We spent four days on safari, driving through the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Our guides drove us around for hours each day as Oksana and I hung out our respective windows, searching the countryside for the next amazing animal.
Before we arrived in South Africa, I never would have guessed that so many of the iconic African animals could be spotted in a single country. For some reason, I thought you had to travel all over the continent if you wanted to see lions, wildebeest, rhinos, giraffes, leopards, hyenas, elephants, crocodiles, zebra, buffalo, baboons, and warthogs. (We saw most of those the first day in the park.) About the only big African animal I can think of that we didn’t have a chance of seeing was a mountain gorilla.
The highlight of the safari, for me, was spotting a cheetah. After we stopped the car to watch him, his brother also emerged from the brush. Both of those beautiful animals eventually crossed the road directly in us before disappearing into a ravine.
The next day, it got even better. Oksana spotted another cheetah. Our guides were blown away. Not only are cheetahs among the rarest animals seen in the park, but we were the ones to spot them – not them, the more experienced guides!
It was nearly sunset when we spotted the cheetah on the second day and we were far from our camp. Still, it was such an amazing animal, our guides graciously allowed us to stay as long as possible. As we watched, the cheetah got up and stretched, then went about marking his territory. Against all odds, his path again took him across the road we were on.
There were no other cars around, so our guide let me bend the rules this one time. He opened up the sunroof and I stood up on the center console before carefully levering my shoulders through the small opening. As I got my camera up, the cheetah was alongside our vehicle, heading behind us, but paralleling the road. Our driver put the car in neutral and we coasted along beside him. I got some great video footage of him walking through the brush like that.
Eventually we stopped and he went about marking a thick tree on the opposite side of the road. If I’d been shooting out the passenger window, I would have lost him, but because I was standing up through the sunroof, I was able to pivot and continue shooting. The sun was now at my back, so I switched the 5D off Live View (video) mode and started taking pictures. I got this photo when he turned to walk away.
We took literally thousands of photos while on safari in Kruger and a handful of them turned out quite well. This one, however, may be my favorite.
Canon 5D Mark II
Date: 4:44pm, 31 May 2011
Focal Length: 400mm (200mm + 2x extender)
Shutter: 125 sec
Exposure: -.3 step
Photoshop: Auto contrast, slight saturation boost, slight dodging around the eye.
African Big 5 Safaris was our tour operator (highly recommended!)
The story of spotting this particular cheetah is told in our African Big 5 Safari video, starting at the 19 min, 48 sec mark.